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How I Keep Fuel Costs For My Plug-In Hybrid SUV So Low

I have been driving plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and full electric vehicles (EVs) for 12 years. In that time I have learned ways to maximize the efficiency and decrease fueling costs of both my PHEVs and EVs in similar ways. But PHEVs, since they use both gasoline and electricity in hybrid mode on longer distance drives, will typically cost more per mile and be less efficient in terms of energy use as even the most thermally efficient gas engines can’t match the efficiency of equivalently electric motors.

My blended (gasoline and electricity) cost per mile over the last 8,200+ miles in my Kia Sorento PHEV is currently sitting at 7 cents per mile. I’ll note that my cost for electricity is 9 cents per kWh (or is $0 if you consider that I make more than my plug-in vehicles consume from solar panels on my roof). Also, most of the miles I have driven on gasoline have been during a period when gasoline prices were extremely high. The average price I paid for gas in 2022 was $4.52.

But that figure is slightly deceptive, because there is at least one thing it does not factor in: over those 8,200 miles I managed to completely fill the battery in my PHEV at least 17 times with free (to me) electricity at public charging stations that offer free level 2 240V charging, at family or friends’ houses, hotels and wineries and resorts that offer free charging. That adds up to about 236 kWh and about 765 miles (and at least one free recharge per month) that I didn’t pay anything for, fuel wise. So my real cost per mile for fuel in my PHEV is about 10% lower than what I reported, so far.

Now, other veteran PHEV drivers out there may scoff at a 6-7 cent per mile fuel cost for a PHEV, but I must point out that first this is for a mid-sized, 3 row SUV and not a compact car or even a compact SUV. Second, for the 8,200+ miles I have driven so far, about 40% of those miles have been on long highway road trips using gasoline. In my previous PHEV (a 2017 Chevy Volt), almost 90% of my total lifetime miles were covered in EV mode due in part to having significantly more EV range in that PHEV, but more so because I used the car primarily for commuting and only took occasional road trips in it. My lifetime cost per mile for my Volt was only about 4 cents, for comparison.

But beyond free electricity for my hybrid battery, how else do I keep the per mile fuel costs for a 4,500+ pound SUV so low? The answer is that I have studied the operation and design of not just my PHEV, but others, and I very intentionally toggle the drive modes my PHEV can operate in to favor driving at slower speeds on electricity and on gasoline at freeway speeds. I also tend to drive my PHEV SUV gently and have gotten over 40 miles of EV range out of a vehicle rated for only 32 miles of EV range. Even when I have a fully loaded vehicle I am still able to get excellent fuel economy out of this large heavy vehicle simply by driving gently, accelerating smoothly, coasting (instead of breaking) when I can or breaking gently to squeeze more regenerative charge for the battery/preserve as much momentum as possible, and by sticking close to the speed limit. These “tricks” (they shouldn’t really be thought of as tricks) are also how I can meet, or beat, the EPA’s total combined range rating for the Sorento PHEV.

Have any comments or questions about the Sorento PHEV or my efficiency results? Please leave them below.

Image courtesy of Justin Hart.

Justin Hart has owned and driven electric vehicles for over 15 years, including a first generation Nissan LEAF, second generation Chevy Volt, Tesla Model 3, an electric bicycle and most recently a Kia Sorento PHEV. He is also an avid SUP rider, poet, photographer and wine lover. He enjoys taking long EV and PHEV road trips to beautiful and serene places with the people he loves. Follow Justin on Twitter for daily KIA EV news coverage.